Agencies are all too familiar with the pitfalls of pitching.
The late nights, the weeks with no ends, the exorbitant cost, the equally ridiculous opportunity cost, the slim chances, and the often foregone / fixed outcomes. But with less and less business out there, and the same overhead to pay and mouths to feed, they continue to be suckered into these archaic speed-dating exercises. But then decades of muscle memory are hard to overcome, and agencies can, in many cases, be forgiven for swallowing their pride and dignity, and trying to rise to the occasion, however ill-suited they may be for it.
My concern is with, and for, the clients that field these Requests For Proposal. Surely they must know by now that these will very, very rarely give them the droids they’re looking for? They must know that they are setting in motion a ball of frenzied new-business departments designed to turn every agency with whom they talk into just one thing: a hammer that’s perfect for every nail, screw, nut and bolt they happen to list as an RFP requirement. They must know that in our new Sharing Economy many agencies now routinely outsource their ideation for spec creative… so chances are, the “winning idea” comes from the minds of talent that doesn’t even actually work with the agency—people who may never be seen or heard from again—it’s the ultimate bait and switch. (Whatever the case, Jeez Louise, why would you give up the precious cherry of your company’s market destiny to anyone’s ability to create a snappy ad campaign. Madness.) And they must know that the process is a huge waste of their own time and energy, too. Yet, incredibly, the RFPs continue to circulate. Of course, despite the logic, there are reasons this medieval practice continues to flourish. Here, in my mind, are the three most ill-conceived and heinous of them:
Chances are, the “winning idea” comes from the minds of talent that doesn’t even actually work with the agency—people who may never be seen or heard from again—it’s the ultimate bait and switch.
Vanity. The RFP process can fuel the ego. It can make clients feel powerful to know a long list of desperate agencies will do their bidding—for free. Watching the monkeys dance placates a deep-rooted human desire—wanting to be wanted. However, it does nothing to grow a business—worse, its distraction takes a CMO’s eye even further off the real ball. Lasting, meaningful relationships are not to be found in the artificially-created worlds of RFP’s and spec creative.
Laziness. Worse than the obvious inefficiency of the process, putting business out to pitch is just downright lazy. We have something called the internet now. Anyone, anywhere, any time, can find out more about any given firm in a couple of hours, online, than one could in a month-long pitch decades ago. And no, I’m obviously not talking about the self-serving propaganda to be found on their .com. I’m talking about digging a little. What are their people’s points of view in their blogs and LinkedIn profiles? What are their clients saying? What is their strategic process? What is the courage of their conviction? Have they authored books on the subject? Are they hosting webinars in their specialty? Are they attending, or perhaps even hosting, industry conferences that help further their opinion? Are they leading the charge in their carefully chosen field… or are they also-ran, jacks of all trades? Do they recognize, and publicly proclaim, that they’re not the best at everything—and have a proven permanent network of experts to draw upon in those (many) areas where additional help will be needed?
Tendering. “Oh, but we have a mandated tender process”, I hear some of you say. Really? For marketing, aka creativity, aka soul searching, aka deep, empathetic, strategic thinking that is the backbone of every single successful business today? When was the last time you had a fruitful, productive relationship—a real partnership—in any area of your life, through tendering? Wake up! Or watch a season of The Bachelor. Change your outdated organizational practices and, if that fails, change organizations—your career is doomed to mediocrity where you are now.
Is this a pointedly skewed and self-serving piece of propaganda for my own company—one that has taken the time to curate and nurture its real strength, and stand firm in its deeply rooted philosophy? You betcha. Do the research. Google “Cult Collective“, shop “Fix: Break The Addictions That Are Killing Brands“, visit “CultGathering.com” and “Commun-o.com“. And then, skip the RFP, and call me.